Meat Free Monday: Gnocchi with Mixed Greens and Cave-Ripened Cheese – Adriatico – Paola Bacchia



From Adriatico: Stories and recipes from Italy’s Adriatic Coast by Paola Bacchia

(Smith Street Books, September 2018 – AU$ 55, NZ$ 65)

Photography (c)  Paola Bacchia


Gnocchi with mixed greens and cave-ripened cheese

Gnocchi con erbe e formaggio di fossa


Gnocchi with mixed greens and cave-ripened cheese


500 g (1 lb 2 oz) mixed greens (such as silverbeet/Swiss chard, spinach and witlof/chicory)

iced water, to refresh

200 g (7 oz) fresh ricotta, drained

100 g (3½  oz) parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve

100 g (3½ oz) formaggio di fossa or a crumbly pecorino, grated

2 eggs, lightly beaten

100 g (3½ oz/1 cup) dried breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon chopped dill

finely grated zest of ½ lemon

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

100 g (3½ oz) unsalted butter


Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Wash and trim the greens, then plunge them into the boiling water. Once it comes to boil again, let the greens cook for a few minutes. Drain and refresh in iced water (to help retain their colour), then roughly chop and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, place the ricotta, grated cheeses and egg in a large bowl and stir until well combined. Add the cooled greens, breadcrumbs, dill, lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste and combine well – the mixture will be quite thick. Roll the mixture into walnut-sized balls. Ideally the gnocchi should be cooked as soon as you make them – don’t let them rest too long.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Before you add the gnocchi to the water, melt the butter in a large deep frying pan over low heat. (You may need to do this in two pans or batches if you don’t have a very large pan.) Once the water is at a rolling boil, carefully drop in the gnocchi in batches, using a slotted spoon. Once they rise to the surface, lift them out with the slotted spoon and carefully drop them into the melted butter. Allow the gnocchi to cook for a few minutes on each side until nicely golden. Spoon onto warmed serving places and drizzle over some of the deep-golden butter.


Scatter with extra grated parmesan and serve immediately.


Authors note:

In Solignano al Rubicone in Emilia-Romagna, just north of Le Marche, they make cheese that is buried in the ground while it ages. It is called ‘formaggio di fossa’, literally, ‘cheese of the pit’. The cheese is made with sheep or cow’s milk (or a combination of both). It is wrapped in muslin and buried in a straw-lined rocky pit – typically of volcanic ash – three to four metres (about three yards) deep, and matured for a period of up to three months. During this time the cheese develops a distinctive woody flavour.


The cheese vendor at the weekly market in Cervia encouraged me to have a taste; it was crumbly, pungent and intense – what I would have called a ‘smelly cheese’ as a child. These days this sort of cheese is right up my alley; a worthy companion to softer milder cheeses on a platter, and a sharp-tasting addition to gnocchi or risotto.


These gnocchi are a bit like gnudi; ‘naked’ filling for ravioli without their pasta coat. Adding the ‘pit cheese’ makes them more flavoursome, and works well if you add some bitter greens to the mix and coat them in melted butter at the end. I am lucky that my local specialised deli in Melbourne sells imported formaggio di fossa, but if you can’t find it, use a crumbly strong-tasting sheep’s milk cheese that has been aged no more than 12 months, such as pecorino sardo.

Venetian Apple Cake: Adriatico – Paola Bacchia


From Adriatico: Stories and recipes from Italy’s Adriatic Coast by Paola Bacchia

(Smith Street Books, September 2018 – AU$ 55, NZ$ 65)


Venetian apple cake

Torta di mele

 Venetian apple cake

SERVES 10–12

4 tart apples

juice of 1 small lemon

3 eggs

150 g (5½ oz) caster (superfine) sugar, plus 2 teaspoons extra

150 g (5½ oz/1 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour

30 g (1 oz) cornflour (cornstarch)

1 scant teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

80 g (2¾ oz) unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line the base and side of a 23 cm (9 in) cake tin with a removable base.


Peel and core the apples and cut them into quarters, then cut each quarter into four or five slices, depending on how big the apple is. Place in a bowl, add the lemon juice and toss so the slices are coated (this will help stop them going brown). Set aside while you prepare the batter.


Beat the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Place the flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk briefly. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until well incorporated, then add the butter and vanilla and fold until well combined.


Divide the apple slices into two portions: one of about 250 g (9 oz) and the other of about 150 g (5½ oz). Cut the larger portion of apple slices in half, then fold them into the batter, including any juice from the bowl. Leave the remaining 150 g (5½ oz) apple slices uncut and set them aside.


Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Arrange the remaining apple slices in a circular pattern on top of the cake, pressing them down gently so they partially sink into the batter. Sprinkle the top with the cinnamon and the extra sugar.


Bake for 50 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Authors note:

Most families on the islands in the lagoon have a recipe for apple cake their nonna or grandmother used to make – simple recipes that can be whipped up in a short amount of time, using pantry ingredients and apples, which are available most of the year.


I generally use tart apples when making cakes as I find the tartness balances all the sugar you add. Granny smiths are my favourites, though fuij or pink lady will also do. The addition of cinnamon to the top of the cake is a personal thing – my mother would never have dreamed of using it on her apple cakes as my father had an aversion to it. He used to say in half-Italian half-English ‘non usar quella bloody cannella’ (‘Don’t use that bloody cinnamon’), where ‘bloody’ was pronounced more like ‘blah-di’. I leave the decision entirely up to you.

Marinated Mackerel: Adriatico – Paola Bacchia


From Adriatico: Stories and recipes from Italy’s Adriatic Coast by Paola Bacchia

(Smith Street Books, September 2018 – AU$ 55, NZ$ 65)


Marinated mackerel

Sgombri in aceto

 Marinated mackerel


300 g (10½ oz) mackerel fillets (about 900 g/2 lb before cleaning)

250–500 ml (8½ –17 fl oz/ 1–2 cups) white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped mint

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

3 tablespoons good-quality extra virgin olive oil

sea salt


Wrap the mackerel fillets in a clean piece of fine white cloth (I use pieces of old cotton sheets but you could also use muslin or a tea towel) and tie the ends with string or elastic bands, so it looks like a bon-bon. Place the parcel in a saucepan filled with room-temperature water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 2 minutes, then remove the parcel and allow most of the water to drip off it.


Place the parcel of mackerel in a medium ceramic or glass bowl and pour in enough vinegar to cover the fish completely. Set aside for 1 hour.


Combine the mint, garlic and olive oil in a bowl and set aside to steep.


After an hour, remove the parcel from the vinegar and open the ends. Gently remove the fish fillets (take care as they may stick to the cloth and break). They should be mostly white; if they are still very pink, drop them directly into the vinegar and check them in 5–10 minutes. It’s fine if they are pale pink.


Pat the fish dry with paper towel and place on a serving plate. Drizzle with the infused olive oil and season to taste with sea salt.


Authors note:

Fresh mackerel are beautiful fish to look at, with their large eyes and colourful silvery skin. They are plentiful and easily caught in spring, when they approach the shore to eat tiny anchovies.


You might think that marinating the poached fillets in vinegar would make the flavour overwhelmingly acidic, but it’s quite the opposite. It removes any excessive fishiness from the delicate fillets and – when dressed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and mint – imparts a well-balanced lightness. It is the kind of appetiser you would want to share on the terrace with close friends on a warm summer night over a bottle of crisp Fiano, a white wine typical of the Gargano.


I usually ask my fishmonger to clean the innards from the mackerel, and then fillet them at home, although you could always see if your fishmonger would do the filleting part too. Make sure you remove any bones with fine tweezers – there aren’t many but it’s worth taking the trouble. If you can’t find mackerel, use large sardine fillets instead.

Cabbage Risotto: Adriatico – Paola Bacchia


From Adriatico: Stories and recipes from Italy’s Adriatic Coast by Paola Bacchia

(Smith Street Books, September 2018 – AU$ 55, NZ$ 65)


Cabbage risotto

Risi e verza


Cabbage risotto


750 ml (25½ fl oz/3 cups) chicken stock, preferably homemade

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

30 g (1 oz) unsalted butter

½ brown onion, finely diced

½ cabbage, thick spines removed, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, peeled, bruised and left whole

200 g (7 oz/1 cup) carnaroli, vialone nano or arborio rice

sea salt and ground white pepper

50 g (1¾ oz) parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve


Pour the stock into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and keep it simmering.


Heat the olive oil and butter in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium– low heat until the butter has melted. Add the onion, then reduce the heat to low and sauté for about 7 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the cabbage and garlic clove and stir well, then add about 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) of the hot stock. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes until the cabbage has softened, stirring occasionally so the cabbage doesn’t stick to the base.


Add the rice to the pan and stir so the rice warms through and is coated with the buttery cabbage. Add a ladleful of hot stock and stir well, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid. When all the liquid has been absorbed, add another ladleful of stock and continue cooking the rice as described – you want to keep it quite soupy. Continue cooking for about 20 minutes, adding stock as needed (or boiling water if you run out of stock) until the rice is cooked but still has a bit of bite. Remove the pan from the heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and remove the garlic clove (if you can find it!). Stir in the grated parmesan, then cover and let the risotto rest for a few minutes.


Serve on warmed plates, with extra parmesan on the side.


Authors note:

Rice was introduced into Italian cooking from the East, probably arriving in northern Italy via Venice. It is a staple in the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy and widely used in the Veneto. Around the Venetian lagoons, simple dishes such as ‘risi e bisi’ (rice and peas) abound in spring. Somewhere between a soup and a risotto, it is traditionally made ‘all’onda’, meaning it is ‘wavy’ or ‘runny’, much like the waves on the sea (or on the lagoon when the boats pass).


A similar dish eaten in autumn is ‘risi e verza’ (rice and cabbage). Surprisingly sweet and velvety, the addition of butter and salty parmesan at the end of cooking produces a soupy risotto that is well balanced and delicious.


You can use vegetable stock to make this dish vegetarian, but I like the depth of flavour you get from using homemade chicken stock. I generally use everyday green cabbage but feel free to experiment with other varieties.

Fisherman’s Biscotti: Adriatico – Paola Bacchia


From Adriatico: Stories and recipes from Italy’s Adriatic Coast by Paola Bacchia

(Smith Street Books, September 2018 – AU$ 55, NZ$ 65)


Fisherman’s biscotti

Biscotti del pescatore

 Fisherman_s biscotti


2 eggs

140 g (5 oz) caster (superfine) sugar

330 g (11¾ oz) plain (all-purpose) flour

2 scant teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

80 g (2¾ oz) butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

25 g (1 oz) hazelnuts, toasted, finely chopped

25 g (1 oz) natural almonds, toasted, finely chopped, plus extra whole almonds to decorate

25 g (1 oz) walnuts, finely chopped

40 g (1½ oz) sultanas (golden raisins) soaked in grappa for at least 30 minutes


Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F) and line two large baking trays with baking paper.


Beat together the eggs and sugar in a bowl, then add the flour, baking powder, salt and butter and combine energetically using a whisk. (You could also do this with a food processor.) Add the vanilla, nuts and drained sultanas and stir until well combined. The mixture will be quite thick.


Form the dough into walnut-sized balls, then flatten them slightly and press a whole almond into the top of each one. Place them on the prepared trays, leaving plenty of room for spreading, and bake for 20–22 minutes until golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. The biscotti will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days.


Authors note:

Biscotti del pescatore are found in bakeries along the coast of Le Marche; mounds of nutty pastry studded with sultanas perfumed with a hint of rum. They are made without any fuss and keep well in a tin, forgotten for a few days only to be retrieved and dunked happily in a cup of milky morning coffee. Although they typically contain pine nuts, I like using hazelnuts instead (more to do with what is in the pantry than by design), but you can experiment with your favourite nuts. Just remember to toast them – it really does make a difference to the flavour – and keep the quantities the same. My friend Vanessa, who tested the recipe for me, told me she loved the biscotti so much that she ate five that day for breakfast, one after the other.